Vets need more education to maximize secure messaging use

Veterans enjoy using the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs My HealtheVet patient portal, but could use more education and skill-building to fully take advantage of it, according to a small study published Thursday in the Journal of Medical Internet Research

Over a three-month period, 33 veterans were interviewed and tested on the patient portal. The majority--82 percent--said they were satisfied with secure messaging before the testing period, and 97 percent reported being satisfied after. Participants found secure messaging especially useful for communicating with their primary care team about test requests and results, medication refills and managing appointments.

Positive aspects of secure messaging, as noted by the veterans, included being able to send a message 24/7 and not having to wait to call during business hours. The portal also gave them the ability and confidence to draft questions on their own time. Having record of the exchange helped the veterans with effective communication, too.

Negative aspects of secure messaging, according to the participants, included knowledge barriers, security issues, prohibited personal expression and clinical resistance. Some veterans also reported being confused about who was receiving their secure messages, and were uncomfortable to learn that multiple people were reading them, instead of just their primary care doctor.

"Veterans perceive secure messaging in the My HealtheVet patient portal as a useful tool for communicating with healthcare team," the study's authors said. "However, to maximize sustained utilization of secure messaging, marketing, education, skill building, and system modifications are needed."

According to research published in December, secure messaging also has the potential to improve medication reconciliation and workflow at primary care clinics--plus, it can get patient questions answered more efficiently.

In addition to focusing physician time on the clinical issues at hand, EHRs also can foster real-time patient-physician communication, physicians from the National Institutes of Health wrote last year.

To learn more:
- read the full study in JMIR

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